We all know the feeling of being overwhelmed, of being beset by distractions.
The problem is – too many things are clamoring for your attention. People are trying to reach you, by phone, email, text or IM. There are the interesting subjects you want to learn more about, on the TV or the internet or the newspaper. Noises in the background occasionally catch your ear, from the TV or radio. Your kids all talk at the same time. Colleagues interrupt. You need to update, check in, post, or ping. Ads jump at you from the most unlikely places. Devices ping, buzz, ring, and vibrate.
It’s enough to drive you crazy. You lose your train of thought, you forget what you’re doing, you have trouble re-engaging in a task, you feel besieged.
But there are steps you can take to quiet the buzz in your brain – even if you don’t want to take up meditation.
In addition to feeling calmer and more focused, you’ll probably be more efficient, too. Turns out that people aren’t very good at thinking about two things at once.
A recent study showed that when people responded to email or IM, it took about fifteen minutes for them to resume a serious mental task.
Many of the following suggestions are fairly draconian. “No iPod?!” “A silent cell phone?!” But you’ll notice a difference in your day. Really consider whether you might be able to go a day or a week without some of these distractions.
If you keep the TV turned on in the background – while you’re getting dressed, say – turn it off.
Turn off the radio, too. Even in the car.
Don’t bring your iPod.
I have a sticky note in my bedroom that reads, “Quiet mind.” Whenever I see it, I drop my shoulders, relax my jaw, and try to smooth out my thoughts. It actually works.
During family time, divide up your children among adults. If possible, have one child per adult.
No multi-tasking. Don’t talk on the phone while you’re doing dishes, don’t check your email while you listen to a conference call, don’t sort the mail while your child explains the school project that’s due next week.
Turn your cell phone ringer off. Hearing your cell phone ring – or even imaging that you’re hearing it ring – is a big source of jumpiness.
Take a break from doing errands. Keep a list, but don’t try to fit them in throughout your day.
Stop looking in the mirror for a week.
Only use the internet to look up a specific piece of information; once you find it, step away from the computer. No jumping from link to link, no browsing.
Twyla Tharp had an interesting approach: occasionally, for a week, she’d “stop counting.” She avoided looking at clocks, contracts, bank statements, bathroom scales, or anything to do with numbers, in order to let the other part of her brain take over.
Flee temptation. I find it hard to work in my home office, because my family, the phone, my email, and the internet constantly beguile me away from my work. So I work at the New York Society Library, where I’m not set up for internet and where they enforce a strict rule of silence.
It’s important to have space in which to think.
Yesterday, I overheard someone complain, “I left my Blackberry at home, so I was so bored during my cab ride home. I just had to sit there.”
There are few things that I love more than looking out the window of a taxi. One day, when I was gazing out of a taxi window, I was struck by a thought: “What do I want out of life?” “Well,” I thought, “I want to be happy.” It occurred to me that I never thought about whether I was happy or not, or how I could be happier, or even what it meant to be happy. “Zoikes,” I thought, “I should have a happiness project!”
If I’d been checking my Blackberry, I might never have had the idea for the happiness project.
I was catching up on one of my favorite sites, Unclutterer, and I found a fascinating post about clearing clutter as a psychological tool. I agree; I think that getting rid of clutter is an extraordinarily effective way to boost energy, calm the mind, and get a jolt of happiness.
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If you’re starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It’s easy; it’s free.